A. Mary F. (Agnes Mary Frances) Robinson.

Emily Brontë online

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Eminent Women Series

Edited by John H. Ingram


All Rights Reserved.




Second Edition.

W. H. Allen and Co.
13, Waterloo Place

[All Rights Reserved]

Printed by W. H. Allen and Co., 13 Waterloo Place. S.W.



Introduction 1

Parentage 8

Babyhood 18

Cowan's Bridge 28

Childhood 40

Going to School 53

Girlhood at Haworth 61

In the Rue d'Isabelle 77

A Retrospect 92

The Recall 103

The Prospectuses 111

Branwell's Fall 116

Writing Poetry 128

Troubles 144

Wuthering Heights: its Origin 154

Wuthering Heights: the Story 168

'Shirley' 209

Branwell's End 217

Emily's Death 223

FINIS! 233

* * * * *


1846-56. The Works of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.

1857. Life of Charlotte Brontë. _Mrs. Gaskell. 1st and 2nd Editions._

1877. Charlotte Brontë. _T. Wemyss Reid._

1877. Note on Charlotte Brontë. _A. C. Swinburne._

1881. Three Great Englishwomen. _P. Bayne._
MS. Lecture on Emily Brontë. _T. Wemyss Reid._
MS. Notes on Emily and Charlotte Brontë. _Miss Ellen Nussey._
MS. Letters of Charlotte and Branwell Brontë.

1879. Reminiscences of the Brontës. _Miss E. Nussey._

1870. Unpublished Letters of Charlotte, Emily,
and Anne Brontë. _Hours at Home._

1846. Emily Brontë's Annotated Copy of her Poems.

1872. Branwell Brontë: in the "Mirror." _G. S. Phillips._

1879. Pictures of the Past. _F. H. Grundy._

1830. Prospectus of the Clergymen's Daughters' School
at Cowan's Bridge.

1850. Preface to Wuthering Heights. _Charlotte Brontë._

1850. Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell. _Charlotte Brontë._

1850. Wuthering Heights: in the "Palladium." _Sydney Dobell._
Personal Reminiscences of Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Ratcliffe, Mrs. Brown,
and Mr. William Wood, of Haworth.

1811-18. Poems of Patrick Brontë, B.A., Incumbent of Haworth.

1879. Haworth: Past and Present. _J. Horsfall Turner._

* * * * *



There are, perhaps, few tests of excellence so sure as the popular
verdict on a work of art a hundred years after its accomplishment. So
much time must be allowed for the swing and rebound of taste, for the
despoiling of tawdry splendours and to permit the work of art itself to
form a public capable of appreciating it. Such marvellous fragments
reach us of Elizabethan praises; and we cannot help recalling the number
of copies of 'Prometheus Unbound' sold in the lifetime of the poet. We
know too well "what porridge had John Keats," and remember with
misgiving the turtle to which we treated Hobbs and Nobbs at dinner, and
how complacently we watched them put on their laurels afterwards.

Let us, then, by all means distrust our own and the public estimation of
all heroes dead within a hundred years. Let us, in laying claim to an
infallible verdict, remember how oddly our decisions sound at the other
side of Time's whispering gallery. Shall we therefore pronounce only on
Chaucer and Shakespeare, on Gower and our learned Ben? Alas! we are too
sure of their relative merits; we stake our reputations with no qualms,
no battle-ardours. These we reserve to them for whom the future is not
yet secure, for whom a timely word may still be spoken, for whom we yet
may feel that lancing out of enthusiasm only possible when the cast of
fate is still unknown, and, as we fight, we fancy that the glory of our
hero is in our hands.

But very gradually the victory is gained. A taste is unconsciously
formed for the qualities necessary to the next development of
art - qualities which Blake in his garret, Millet without the sou, set
down in immortal work. At last, when the time is ripe, some connoisseur
sees the picture, blows the dust from the book, and straightway blazons
his discovery. Mr. Swinburne, so to speak, blew the dust from 'Wuthering
Heights'; and now it keeps its proper rank in the shelf where Coleridge
and Webster, Hofmann and Leopardi have their place. Until then, a few
brave lines of welcome from Sydney Dobell, one fine verse of Mr.
Arnold's, one notice from Mr. Reid, was all the praise that had been
given to the book by those in authority. Here and there a mill-girl in
the West Riding factories read and re-read the tattered copy from the
lending library; here and there some eager, unsatisfied, passionate
child came upon the book and loved it, in spite of chiding, finding in
it an imagination that satisfied, and a storm that cleared the air; or
some strong-fibred heart felt without a shudder the justice of that
stern vision of inevitable, inherited ruin following the chance-found
child of foreign sailor and seaport mother. But these readers were not
many; even yet the book is not popular.

For, in truth, the qualities that distinguish Emily Brontë are not those
which are of the first necessity to a novelist. She is without
experience; her range of character is narrow and local; she has no
atmosphere of broad humanity like George Eliot; she has not Jane
Austen's happy gift of making us love in a book what we have overlooked
in life; we do not recognise in her the human truth and passion, the
never-failing serene bitterness of humour, that have made for Charlotte
Brontë a place between Cervantes and Victor Hugo.

Emily Brontë is of a different class. Her imagination is narrower, but
more intense; she sees less, but what she sees is absolutely present: no
writer has described the moors, the wind, the skies, with her passionate
fidelity, but this is all of Nature that she describes. Her narrow
fervid nature accounted as simple annoyance the trivial scenes and
personages touched with immortal sympathy and humour in 'Villette' and
'Shirley'; Paul Emanuel himself appeared to her only as a pedantic and
exacting taskmaster; but, on the other hand, to a certain class of mind,
there is nothing in fiction so moving as the spectacle of Heathcliff
dying of joy - an unnatural, unreal joy - his panther nature paralysed,
_anéanti_, in a delirium of visionary bliss.

Only an imagination of the rarest power could conceive such a
dénouement, requiting a life of black ingratitude by no mere common
horrors, no vulgar Bedlam frenzy; but by the torturing apprehension of a
happiness never quite grasped, always just beyond the verge of
realisation. Only an imagination of the finest and rarest touch,
absolutely certain of tread on that path of a single hair which alone
connects this world with the land of dreams. Few have trod that perilous
bridge with the fearlessness of Emily Brontë: that is her own ground and
there she wins our highest praise; but place her on the earth, ask her
to interpret for us the common lives of the surrounding people, she can
give no answer. The swift and certain spirit moves with the clumsy
hesitating gait of a bird accustomed to soar.

She tells us what she saw; and what she saw and what she was incapable
of seeing are equally characteristic. All the wildness of that moorland,
all the secrets of those lonely farms, all the capabilities of the one
tragedy of passion and weakness that touched her solitary life, she
divined and appropriated; but not the life of the village at her feet,
not the bustle of the mills, the riots, the sudden alternations of
wealth and poverty; not the incessant rivalry of church and chapel; and
while the West Riding has known the prototype of nearly every person and
nearly every place in 'Jane Eyre' and 'Shirley,' not a single character
in 'Wuthering Heights' ever climbed the hills round Haworth.

Say that two foreigners have passed through Staffordshire, leaving us
their reports of what they have seen. The first, going by day, will tell
us of the hideous blackness of the country; but yet more, no doubt, of
that awful, patient struggle of man with fire and darkness, of the grim
courage of those unknown lives; and he would see what they toil for,
women with little children in their arms; and he would notice the blue
sky beyond the smoke, doubly precious for such horrible environment. But
the second traveller has journeyed through the night; neither squalor
nor ugliness, neither sky nor children, has he seen, only a vast stretch
of blackness shot through with flaming fires, or here and there burned
to a dull red by heated furnaces; and before these, strange toilers,
half naked, scarcely human, and red in the leaping flicker and gleam of
the fire. The meaning of their work he could not see, but a fearful and
impressive phantasmagoria of flame and blackness and fiery energies at
work in the encompassing night.

So differently did the black country of this world appear to Charlotte,
clear-seeing and compassionate, and to Emily Brontë, a traveller through
the shadows. Each faithfully recorded what she saw, and the place was
the same, but how unlike the vision! The spectacles of temperament
colour the world very differently for each beholder; and, to understand
the vision, we too should for a moment look through the seer's glass. To
gain some such transient glance, to gain and give some such momentary
insight into the character of Emily Brontë, has been the aim I have
tried to make in this book. That I have not fulfilled my desire is
perhaps inevitable - the task has been left too long. If I have done
anything at all I feel that much of the reward is due to my many and
generous helpers. Foremost among them I must thank Dr. Ingham, my kind
host at Haworth, Mrs. Wood, Mr. William Wood, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs.
Ratcliffe of that parish - all of whom had known the now perished family
of Brontë; and my thanks are due no less to Mr. T. Wemyss Reid, as will
be seen further on, to Mr. J. H. Ingram, and to Mr. Biddell, who have
collected much valuable information for my benefit; and most of all do I
owe gratitude and thankfulness to Miss Ellen Nussey, without whose
generous help my work must have remained most ignorant and astray. To
her, had it been worthier, had it been all the subject merits, and yet
without those shadows of gloom and trouble enjoined by the nature of the
story; to her, could I only have spoken of the high noble character of
Emily Brontë and not of the great trials of her life, I should have
ventured to dedicate this study. But to Emily's friend I only offer
what, through her, I have learned of Emily; she, who knew so little of
Branwell's shames and sorrow is unconcerned with this, their sad and
necessary record. Only the lights and sunshine of my work I dedicate to
her. It may be that I have given too great a share to the shadows, to
the manifold follies and failures of Branwell Brontë. Yet in Emily
Brontë's life the shaping influences were so few, and the sins of this
beloved and erring brother had so large a share in determining the bent
of her genius, that to have passed them by would have been to ignore the
shock which turned the fantasy of the 'Poems' into the tragedy of
'Wuthering Heights.' It would have been to leave untold the patience,
the courage, the unselfishness which perfected Emily Brontë's heroic
character; and to have left her burdened with the calumny of having
chosen to invent the crimes and violence of her _dramatis personæ_. Not
so, alas! They were but reflected from the passion and sorrow that
darkened her home; it was no perverse fancy which drove that pure and
innocent girl into ceaseless brooding on the conquering force of sin and
the supremacy of injustice.

She brooded over the problem night and day; she took its difficulties
passionately to heart; in the midst of her troubled thoughts she wrote
'Wuthering Heights.' From the clear spirit which inspires the end of her
work, we know that the storm is over; we know that her next tragedy
would be less violent. But we shall never see it; for - and it is by this
that most of us remember her - suddenly and silently she died.

She died, before a single word of worthy praise had reached her. She
died with her work misunderstood and neglected. And yet not unhappy. For
her home on the moors was very dear to her, the least and homeliest
duties pleasant; she loved her sisters with devoted friendship, and she
had many little happinesses in her patient, cheerful, unselfish life.
Would that I could show her as she was! - not the austere and violent
poetess who, cuckoo-fashion, has usurped her place; but brave to fate
and timid of man; stern to herself, forbearing to all weak and erring
things; silent, yet sometimes sparkling with happy sallies. For to
represent her as she was would be her noblest and most fitting



Emily Brontë was born of parents without any peculiar talent for
literature. It is true that her mother's letters are precisely and
prettily written. It is true that her father published a few tracts and
religious poems. But in neither case is there any vestige of literary or
poetical endowment. Few, indeed, are the Parish Magazines which could
not show among their contents poems and articles greatly superior to the
weak and characterless effusions of the father of the Brontës. The fact
seems important; because in this case not one member of a family, but a
whole family, is endowed in more or less degree with faculties not
derived from either parent.

For children may inherit genius from parents who are themselves not
gifted, as two streaming currents of air unite to form a liquid with
properties different from either; and never is biography more valuable
than when it allows us to perceive by what combination of allied
qualities, friction of opposing temperaments, recurrence of ancestral
traits, the subtle thing we call character is determined. In this case,
since, as I have said, the whole family manifested a brilliance not to
be found in either parent, such a study would be peculiarly interesting.
But, unfortunately, the history of the children's father and the
constitution of the children's mother is all that is clear to our

Yet even out of this very short pedigree two important factors of genius
declare themselves - two potent and shaping inheritances. From their
father, Currer, Ellis, and Acton derived a strong will. From their
mother, the disease that slew Emily and Anne in the prime of their youth
and made Charlotte always delicate and ailing. In both cases the boy,
Patrick Branwell, was very slightly affected; but he too died young,
from excesses that suggest a taint of insanity in his constitution.

Insanity and genius stand on either side consumption, its worse and
better angels. Let none call it impious or absurd to rank the greatest
gift to mankind as the occasional result of an inherited tendency to
tubercular disease. There are of course very many other determining
causes; yet is it certain that inherited scrofula or phthisis may come
out, not in these diseases, or not only in these diseases, but in an
alteration, for better or for worse, of the condition of the mind. Out
of evil good may come, or a worse evil.

The children's father was a nervous, irritable and violent man, who
endowed them with a nervous organisation easily disturbed and an
indomitable force of volition. The girls, at least, showed both these
characteristics. Patrick Branwell must have been a weaker, more
brilliant, more violent, less tenacious, less upright copy of his
father; and seems to have suffered no modification from the patient and
steadfast moral nature of his mother. She was the model that her
daughters copied, in different degrees, both in character and health.
Passion and will their father gave them. Their genius came directly from
neither parent; but from the constitution of their natures.

In addition, on both sides, the children got a Celtic strain; and this
is a matter of significance, meaning a predisposition to the
superstition, imagination and horror that is a strand in all their work.
Their mother, Maria Branwell, was of a good middle-class Cornish family,
long established as merchants in Penzance. Their father was the son of
an Irish peasant, Hugh Prunty, settled in the north of Ireland, but
native to the south.

The history of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, B.A. (whose fine Greek name,
shortened from the ancient Irish appellation of Bronterre, was so
naïvely admired by his children), is itself a remarkable and interesting

The Reverend Patrick Brontë was one of the ten children of a peasant
proprietor at Ahaderg in county Down. The family to which he belonged
inherited strength, good looks, and a few scant acres of potato-growing
soil. They must have been very poor, those ten children, often hungry,
cold and wet; but these adverse influences only seemed to brace the
sinews of Patrick Prunty and to nerve his determination to rise above
his surroundings. He grew up a tall and strong young fellow, unusually
handsome with a well-shaped head, regular profile and fine blue eyes. A
vivacious impressible manner effectually masked a certain selfishness
and rigour of temperament which became plain in after years. He seemed a
generous, quick, impulsive lad. When he was sixteen years of age Patrick
left his father's roof resolved to earn a position for himself. At
Drumgooland, a neighbouring hamlet, he opened what is called in Ireland
a public school; a sort of hedge-school for village children. He stuck
to his trade for five or six years, using his leisure to perfect himself
in general knowledge, mathematics, and a smattering of Greek and Latin.

His efforts deserved to be crowned with success. The Rev. Mr. Tighe,
the clergyman of the parish, was so struck with Patrick Prunty's
determination and ability that he advised him to try for admittance at
one of the English universities; and when the young man was about
five-and-twenty he went, with Mr. Tighe's help, to Cambridge, and
entered at St. John's.

He left Ireland in July, 1802, never to visit it again. He never cared
to look again on the scenes of his early struggle. He never found the
means to revisit mother or home, friends or country. Between Patrick
Brontë, proud of his Greek profile and his Greek name, the handsome
undergraduate at St. John's, and the nine shoeless, hungry young Pruntys
of Ahaderg, there stretched a distance not to be measured by miles.
Under his warm and passionate exterior a fixed resolution to get on in
the world was hidden; but, though cold, the young man was just and
self-denying, and as long as his mother lived she received twenty pounds
a year, spared with difficulty from his narrow income.

Patrick Brontë stayed four years at Cambridge; when he left he had
dropped his Irish accent and taken his B.A. On leaving St. John's he was
ordained to a curacy in Essex.

The young man's energy, of the sort that only toils to reach a given
personal end, had carried him far on the way to success. At twenty
hedge-schoolmaster at Drumgooland, Patrick Brontë was at thirty a
respectable clergyman of the Church of England, with an assured position
and respectable clerical acquaintance. He was getting very near the

He did not stay long in Essex. A better curacy was offered to him at
Hartshead, a little village between Huddersfield and Halifax in
Yorkshire. While he was at Hartshead the handsome inflammable Irish
curate met Maria Branwell at her uncle's parsonage near Leeds. It was
not the first time that Patrick Brontë had fallen in love; people in the
neighbourhood used to smile at his facility for adoration, and thought
it of a piece with his enthusiastic character. They were quite right; in
his strange nature the violence and the coldness were equally genuine,
both being a means to gratify some personal ambition, desire, or
indolence. It is not an uncommon Irish type; self-important, upright,
honourable, yet with a bent towards subtlety: abstemious in habit, but
with freaks of violent self-indulgence; courteous and impulsive towards
strangers, though cold to members of the household; naturally violent,
and often assuming violence as an instrument of authority; selfish and
dutiful; passionate, and devoid of intense affection.

Miss Branwell was precisely the little person with whom it was natural
that such a man, a self-made man, should fall in love. She was very
small, quiet and gentle, not exactly pretty, but elegant and ladylike.
She was, indeed, a well-educated young lady of good connections; a very
Phoenix she must have seemed in the eyes of a lover conscious of a
background of Pruntyism and potatoes. She was about twenty-one and he
thirty-five when they first met in the early summer of 1812. They were
engaged in August. Miss Branwell's letters reveal a quiet intensity of
devotion, a faculty of judgment, a willingness to forgive passing
slights that must have satisfied the absolute and critical temper of her
lover. Under the devotion and the quietness there is, however, the note
of an independent spirit, and the following extract, with its capability
of self-reliance and desire to rely upon another, reminds one curiously
of passages in her daughter Charlotte's writings: -

"For some years I have been perfectly my own mistress,
subject to no control whatever; so far from it that my
sisters, who are many years older than myself, and even my
dear mother used to consult me on every occasion of
importance, and scarcely ever doubted the propriety of my
words and actions: perhaps you will be ready to accuse me of
vanity in mentioning this, but you must consider that I do
not boast of it. I have many times felt it a disadvantage,
and although, I thank God, it has never led me into error,
yet in circumstances of uncertainty and doubt I have deeply
felt the want of a guide and instructor."

Years afterwards, when Maria Branwell's letters were given into the
hands of her daughter Charlotte and that daughter's most dear and
faithful friend, the two young women felt a keen pang of retrospective
sympathy for the gentle independent little person who, even before her
marriage, had time to perceive that her guide and instructor was not the
infallible Mentor she had thought him at the first. I quote the words of
Charlotte's friend, of more authority and weight on this matter than
those of any other person living, taken from a manuscript which she has
placed at my disposal: -

"Miss Branwell's letters showed that her engagement, though
not a prolonged one, was not as happy as it ought to have
been. There was a pathos of apprehension (though gently
expressed) in part of the correspondence lest Mr. Brontë
should cool in his affection towards her, and the readers
perceived with some indignation that there had been a just
cause for this apprehension. Mr. Brontë, with all his iron
strength and power of will, had his weakness, and one which,
wherever it exists, spoils and debases the character - he had
_personal vanity_. Miss Branwell's finer nature rose above
such weakness; but she suffered all the more from evidences
of it in one to whom she had given her affections and whom

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Online LibraryA. Mary F. (Agnes Mary Frances) RobinsonEmily Brontë → online text (page 1 of 17)